An interview with novelist, essayist, and cultural critic, Lynne Tillman.
Craig: You’re listening to “On Margins.”
Craig: [background music]
Craig: I’m Craig Mod, and this is episode nine. Today we are talking with one of my very favorite writers, critics, and just overall human beings in this increasingly wacky, slightly disconcerting world of ours. Her name is Lynne Tillman.
Craig: Lynne is the author of no fewer than 15 books. Her works jumps between fiction, nonfiction, novels, short stories, and essays. Her 2014 collection of essays, “What Would Lynne Tillman Do?” was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. On the title of that book, Lynne had this to say.
Lynne: I guess some people would think, “Oh, my God, what vaingloriousness or something,” [laughs] but I never really associated it with me, exactly. It’s sort of just the concept. What would anybody do?
Craig: It’s so disembodied.
Lynne: [laughs] Yes.
Craig: It’s weird.
Lynne: [laughs] It’s incredibly weird. It’s not like, “What would Jesus do?” I mean, here’s this person who is unknown, except to maybe a couple of thousand of my readers or something, or people who know me. Why would anybody care about what would Lynne Tillman think?
Craig: [background music]
Craig: Lydia Davis blurbs for her. Paula Fox is an old buddy. Lynne is beloved. Lynne has one of the most creative and enthusiastically vexing minds of anyone I know.
Craig: About Lynne, the Booker-winning Irish poet Colm Tóibín wrote, “She was wearing black. She had a glass of whiskey on the rocks in her hand. Her delivery was dry, deadpan, deliberate. There was an ironic undertone in her voice and a sense that she had it in for earnestness, easy emotion, realism. She exuded a tone which was considered, examined, and then re-examined.
Craig: She understood, it seemed to me, that everything she said would have to be able to survive the listener’s intelligence and sense of irony. Her own intelligence was high and refined, her sense of irony knowing and humorous. I had not come across anyone like her before.”
Craig: [background music]
Craig: Lynne was kind enough to let me visit her at her East Village apartment, where she has been resident for over 30 years. We splayed all of our books out on the kitchen table and went through, willy-nilly, grabbing copies and talking about covers.
Craig: Now, do we start eating nuts and hummus halfway through? You bet we do. Before you go and get all judgy, go grab your own hummus. Grab your own nuts. Pour yourself a stiff cup of coffee and come hang out with Lynne and me for the next hour or so. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Lynne: Hey, Craig.
Craig: Hey, Lynnie, how you doing?
Lynne: Fine. Great to see you.
Craig: [kiss sound]
Lynne: Come on in.
Craig: [door closes]
Craig: We have a lot of books on the table.
Lynne: Yes, we do, many, many, many.
Lynne: Perhaps too many. I want to start at the first novel, this.
Craig: Haunted Houses.”
Lynne: This has a funny provenance, in a way. Bret Easton Ellis’s book “Less Than Zero” came out about a year before. It’s basically the same background as Less Than Zero. This book came out in 1987. In about end of 1985, I said to the editor – this was at Poseidon, which was then part of Simon & Schuster – “My friend Barbara Kruger will do the cover for nothing.”
Craig: She didn’t know who Barbara Kruger was, [laughs] which was very odd because Barbara had made a really big impression in the art world. The literary world or the publishing world, which is actually different, really has no idea what’s going on in the art world. They didn’t use her work, which would have been free…
Lynne: and startling. This picture, I gave them a portrait that Nan Goldin had given me, and they just cut the hell out of it. They didn’t know who Nan Goldin was either.
Lynne: They could have put quotes somewhere. There could have been a much bigger picture, beautiful picture, that portrait that Nan took of me in this old bar on Seventh Street and Avenue B. Paul Newman’s film “The Verdict,” some of it was shot there. It was beautiful, the whole setting.
Craig: How much of this were you seeing in the process of production? How much of it was you getting the final book and being surprised?
Lynne: I saw basically nothing, and I was very surprised. I don’t know who this is, but because Haunted Houses has young girls in it in the first section, they wanted an older person. She’s 20, 21. That’s actually a picture of me when I was at summer camp and grimacing, which the editor thought would be good. It’s a more complicated-looking girl.
Craig: Look how uncurly the hair is, though.
Lynne: Isn’t that funny?
Craig: It’s amazing.
Lynne: I guess my mother must have done something to it. Very interesting. I hadn’t thought about that.
Craig: Even your author photo. You’ve had such a consistent look for the last…
Lynne: For a long time. You can’t see how long that hair is. This is really long. I had this…
Lynne: I wore this thing on my head.
Craig: You’ve always been proud of the volume of curls.
Lynne: Volume is good. Yes, volume is good.
Craig: This was re-released recently, wasn’t it, like in the last 10 years by Red Lemonade?
Lynne: Richard has not yet released it. For one thing, the person doing the introduction hasn’t yet done it. I will not say her name…
Craig: [laughs] Won’t shame her.
Lynne: in order not to shame her. [laughs] No, this hasn’t come out.
Craig: I have this image of this Haunted Houses cover with these three – maybe this is a different book – shots of you at different scales and blur.
Lynne: Did it come out again?
Craig: I feel like it did.
Lynne: I thought not.
Craig: This is a book about three girls, right?
Lynne: Yeah. Am I losing my mind?
Craig: [laughs] Maybe there was a Kindle edition that was put out that had this new cover.
Lynne: Are you sure it was for… [laughs]
Craig: Let’s do a quick peek because this is so striking. I was, “Oh, yeah. These, the three women.” It’s three…
Lynne: I don’t even know if I have those here. He did which one? This is one.
Craig: Yep, “Someday This Will Be Funny.” It’s in that…Yeah, look at this.
Lynne: I guess I don’t have it.
Craig: It’s really striking, actually. I really love it. It’s one of my favorite of the reissues.
Lynne: Oh, yes! It was reissued. I just don’t have a copy of it.
Craig: Isn’t that amazing, though?
Lynne: Yes, it is. The designer of all of the reissues that Richard did for Red Lemonade is…What is his name? Charles Orr, O-R-R.
Craig: Was Charles working with Soft Skull before?
Lynne: No. When Richard wanted to do this, he talked with Charles Orr, and I met him. I was kind of concerned. I didn’t really want my face on all these. They worked to make it so that it didn’t feel too much like I was doing a cult-of-personality business. This one I like a lot for “Cast In Doubt.”
Craig: This is the story of Helen and Horace?
Craig: On the Greek islands.
Lynne: The first cover was so stupid.
Lynne: Look at that.
Craig: It’s a Greek island. [laughs]
Lynne: It really says nothing about the book. It’s not that it’s an ugly cover. It just has no sense of its, for lack of a better word, hipness.
Craig: We won’t say who did it, but it’s not ugly at all.
Lynne: It just doesn’t tell you anything about the book. I would look at that and I wouldn’t necessarily pick it up.
Craig: No. It’s like if a novel’s called the “The Man,” and you just had a picturistic figure of a man on the cover of…
Craig: Cast In Doubt on the islands. Now with the reissue is very…How can you not be pulled into this?
Lynne: Yeah. With that eye.
Craig: And whose eye’s that?
Lynne: That’s my eye.
Craig: Oh…Look at that.
Lynne: The photographer, he shot in color and black and white, and a lot of makeup was put on me – I mean not huge amounts, but I was so bored and the lights were so harsh.
Lynne: I shouldn’t complain, because Richard set this whole thing up and Charles Orr, but the makeup at a certain point caked in, and they said, “Do you want to do it over?” and I said, “No,” so I think there was a lot of photoshopping.
Craig: It’s so striking. This is very interesting. This cover, Charles Orr’s idea was to photograph your face somehow. This is all part of the Red Lemonade series, the reissues.
Lynne: That’s right.
Craig: It seems like it was a conscious decision to put your face on everything.
Lynne: Absolutely. Not everything, not cornflakes…
Lynne: but this whole series.
Lynne: I don’t know where “Motion Sickness” is, and I obviously don’t have a copy of the new issue [laughs] and new edition of Haunted Houses, and didn’t remember.
Craig: In Motion Sickness, too, I’m trying to remember what, how that…
Lynne: And for that, David Ulin did the introduction, and for Cast in Doubt, it was the wonderful Wayne Koestenbaum, and of course David Ulin is also a wonderful person.
Craig: Interesting. It didn’t pop up. The title treatment, this is really curious, isn’t it, the Cast in Doubt?
Lynne: Yeah. It’s elongated and very narrow, and my name is somewhat smaller than the title, which is good. I prefer the title being larger than the name, but I think it’s very well designed having the eye so prominent and the title to the right of it, which I think looks really unusual. The skin tone is nice.
Craig: The skin tone’s very…also the way it’s projected onto the face. It doesn’t feel like two disembodied pieces, it feels like a whole up there. It’s really fascinating how there’s this whole branding that Red Lemonade built around the name Lynne Tillman.
Lynne: Richard wanted it all to have the same look and to have my face on it. I was, as I said, reluctant, and so when this one came out…
Craig: Someday This Will Be Funny.
Lynne: it was right-side up, and I said, “Please, turn it upside down,” because having the title Someday This Will Be Funny on top of my face, in a regular portrait way, just struck me as perhaps a kind of self-critique I wasn’t ready for.
Craig: It’s certainly good. An unvirtuous fortune cookie or something…
Lynne: That’s right, that’s right.
Craig: This is all Charles Orr?
Craig: I really love how it came together.
Lynne: He did a wonderful job. He’s a good designer.
Craig: So much of it is, I think, the tones.
Craig: I mean so much of the writing is also tone-related. [laughs]
Lynne: We know, but it’s not published in Japanese.
Craig: The tone. I think that’s really fascinating that you have spoken with Japanese translators, and they have kind of…
Craig: There was one, [laughs] but a very good one, a very talented one. The tone was…It’s complicated to pull over.
Lynne: That’s right. He said that there were too many changes of tone within the same sentence, and that is true, I understand that. I’d never thought that this would stop me from being translated into Japanese, [laughs] but apparently it has.
Craig: Honestly, it would be a massive undertaking, I think, to get that, to nail that in Japanese, because those shifts aren’t there usually.
Lynne: But there’s irony in Japanese. Recently, Argentina. “The Complete Madame Realism And Other Stories” is going to be translated into Spanish and come out in Argentina. That is this book.
Craig: And this is 1992-ish?
Lynne: No, no. This is The Complete one. Just came out in 2016.
Craig: But The Madame Realism, the first one..
Lynne: The very first one was in 1992, and I don’t know where that is.
Craig: It’s all right.
Lynne: I know it’s there. I know it’s there. This is a cover. This image is from the artist Louise Lawler, and Hedi El Kholti, who manages Semiotext(e), is himself an artist and designer, and he designed the cover.
Lynne: Louise Lawler, she gave the image. She’s a good friend, and I think certain requirements of hers was that the image not be just spoiled or something, and I think they did a good job.
Craig: How do you feel about this connecting with the book itself?
Lynne: With the statues? I think why I love it is that I think there’s something about Madame Realism, the character. It’s not that she is a statue, but she is in each story. I mean, it’s her story, and anyone of these you could imagine as a figure for her. Not that that’s how I see her, but it just struck me here on these different female figures, these sculptures.
Craig: I see, these are all women.
Lynne: Yeah, they’re all women. I just liked the idea that Madame Realism, as a character, she’s a figure. She’s a figure of speech anyway, and these are figures in, I guess whatever, marble, I suppose.
Craig: Very interesting the Semiotext(e). There’s this pattern of a lot of reissuing of some of your original stuff.
Lynne: Yes, that’s right. The first Madame Realism, which also came out from Semiotext(e), had about five or six Madame Realism stories or as many as I’d written then, like seven, and some other stories, so it was not strictly…That’s why I called it “The Madame Realism Complex.” It wasn’t just Madame Realism. When they finally ran out of the book, after 20 years or something like that…
Lynne: ran out of copies, Hedi said, “Do you want to reissue it?” I said, “There are a lot more Madame Realism stories, so why don’t we do the complete one?” and then threw in some very recent stories, too, toward the end.
Craig: How many more were…
Lynne: How many more? God, how many? 16 or 17 Madame Realism stories. Of course, just to be perverse, what did I do? I’ve written another Madame Realism story, so now it’s incomplete.
Craig: When did you write that?
Lynne: I wrote that not this summer, a summer ago.
Craig: What’s the page 69 rule?
Lynne: Is there a page 69 rule?
Craig: I thought you had a rule about opening a book to page 69, reading, and finding if there was something interesting or not.
Craig: No? OK. [laughs]
Lynne: You must be mixing me up with somebody.
Craig: I read your interview with 3:AM Magazine.
Lynne: Did I say page 69?
Craig: [laughs] Maybe the interviewer invented the rule.
Lynne: Invented it.
Lynne: I don’t remember ever saying that.
Craig: I’m looking at page 69 here. It’s this line, “‘Focus,’ Madame Realism demanded of herself, ‘Concentrate.’ She couldn’t find her reading glasses.”
Craig: What a great author photo on the back of this book. [laughs]
Lynne: Someone called Craig Mod took it when I was unaware he was taking it. I didn’t know that you were…Did I know you were taking my pictures?
Craig: A little. I had been snapping away, periodically, throughout the coffee.
Lynne: Was it coffee?
Craig: It was coffee. Richard was there.
Lynne: That was…?
Craig: Yeah, we were in the back of Richard’s club.
Lynne: Oh, my. That’s right, absolutely.
Craig: We did some shots also at the café in the West Village, but the light wasn’t as good. The light was very good for this.
Lynne: Isn’t that funny. What was the name of that restaurant we went to? It was really good, and we sat outside.
Craig: Yep, on the sidewalk.
Lynne: It was lovely. It’s a famous restaurant. Ambrosia? No. Something like that.
Craig: The light, it was just too harsh. This was in the back of the Norwood, in the courtyard.
Lynne: That’s right. What were you shooting with?
Craig: I was using a black-and-white. It only shot black-and-white, the digital camera, tuned to just be a black-and-white sensor. I had just gotten it, actually. That’s why I was excited and photographing a lot with it.
Lynne: Have you always been interested in photography, or is this relatively new?
Craig: Always, always. I could never afford a camera when I was young. I had wanted one when I was 15, 16, 17, but there was just no way to afford it. When I first went to Tokyo when I was 19, I saved up and bought…I basically taught myself photography online. There was a forum that was very active, and you could learn everything. It was a sort of autodidactic situation.
Craig: There’s that platonic ethos of what the Web can be where all information is open, and you can learn from people. It really was. I spent hundreds of hours reading these forums about photography, about how to use slide film and how to think about exposures, which bodies to buy and which lenses to use.
Lynne: Did you do that with the other subjects as well?
Craig: Everything. [laughs] Lots of design, all of the technical stuff that I’ve done was also self-taught, all the Web stuff. I grew up in a generation where a lot of what was happening online couldn’t be learned any other way than just getting…
Lynne: Because it was being created as it was going along.
Craig: Yeah, at university, I was in computer science courses, but they were theoretical mathematics courses. There’s nothing pragmatic about it. Any of the actual doing and making, you had to learn on your own. It was of that moment. I think now you can probably learn more, in a vocational way, at university for that stuff.
Lynne: Bringing out anthologies of my writing, that’s important to me. The reason why collections, because a lot of my writing goes into obscure places. [laughs] If I’m writing essays for a catalog for a private foundation, no one ever sees it except the artist or the institution.
Lynne: Bringing them all together is just a very solid way of letting people know what you’ve been doing for the past 10 years or something with these shorter works.
Craig: There’s something important about that adjacency, too, of all these things next to each other and reading them in that way.
Lynne: I could tell you a little bit about this book, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? Or do you want to go back to…You had some idea about something else you wanted to say?
Craig: I was just going to say, with this image, I think it works.
Lynne: The picture you shot of me? I’ve been using it everywhere.
Craig: [laughs] It’s become…
Lynne: It’s absolutely magnificent.
Craig: I think part of why it works so well is because Richard was nearby, and we were getting the glowing warmth of Richard in the courtyard. [laughs]
Lynne: The spectacular Richard Nash is the person we’re talking about. We were all in a very good mood, too.
Craig: It was good.
Lynne: We were happy to be together.
Craig: It was nice out. It was beautiful.
Lynne: Yes, and that does bring me to What Would Lynne Tillman Do? because Richard published this.
Craig: Someday This Will Be Funny.
Lynne: What Would Lynne Tillman Do?…
Craig: What was the other one?
Lynne: and “American Genius, A Comedy,” were all published by him.
Craig: How did that relationship appear? I actually don’t know that connection.
Lynne: American Genius, A Comedy ultimately came out in 2006. I finished writing it at the end of 2004, early 2005. Then it went on the market. It’s not the usual book. I don’t really write the usual novel. It went only to five publishers, editors, one of whom was Richard.
Lynne: I had heard that Richard was very interested in publishing me. The four other editors that it was sent to all rejected it. Happily, I’m so glad they rejected it because it created a moment for me to meet Richard. My career, I don’t think it would be hideous, but it would be nowhere without Richard’s touch.
Lynne: He really changed my publication possibilities and the way in which I’m seen. He made many, many things possible. American Genius, A Comedy, he said he wanted to publish it. He was quite nervous about how I would respond to his edits. I think he’d had some poor experiences with other writers.
Lynne: It made me very nervous that he was nervous. I’m thinking, “What is he going to do?” In fact, he’s more of a line editor than he is a macro. It’s more micro. That worked beautifully for American Genius, A Comedy because I was playing with very long sentences.
Lynne: What created, what cemented our relationship was that he sent me the edits, and I thought it would be so much easier just to go through it with him. They were not Herculean problems at all, so I said, “Why don’t I come to your office?”
Lynne: He said, “No, I’ll come to you on a weekend because we’ll have more time, and I won’t be interrupted.” He came over on a Saturday. I guess he got here at about 11:00 AM. We sat on the couch in the front, next to each other, and he didn’t leave till about 7:30 at night.
Lynne: We sat on the couch going through all of his comments. Again, it wasn’t massive at all, but it was very specific. At that time, I almost refused to use dashes. [laughs] There were a lot of commas in American Genius, A Comedy, and I love commas. People getting rid of them, I don’t know why.
Lynne: I do know why. They think it’s not necessary, and I think commas are necessary. That helps create the rhythm. You are letting the reader know where a slight pause is. I gave him some dashes. [laughs] We went through. He said, “I really would love another sentence here. This is so interesting. Would you expand on that?”
Lynne: I went over to my computer, and I wrote another sentence. I’d come back, print it out, and I’d say, “Read it to me, would you?” He would read it in this wonderful Irish accent, but he got the rhythm right. He knew exactly. That’s, in part, because he did theater. He went to Yale, and he was in theater and directing.
Lynne: We had such a good time. I’d never done anything like that before with an editor. That was it. I knew it was going to be a long time before I had another novel ready because the idea that I had would ensorcell me [laughs] for many years, and it did.
Craig: Which was “Men and Apparitions”?
Lynne: Men and Apparitions, yes. I said, “Richard, it’s going to be a long time. Why don’t we do some short stories?” Then he did Someday This Will Be Funny. That came out in 2011, which is five years after American Genius, A Comedy.
Lynne: Then 2014 comes around, or 2013. I said, “I have so many essays. Why don’t we do an essay collection?” That was What Would Lynne Tillman Do? The amazing thing about the title, What Would Lynne Tillman do, is that the story on that is that Stephen Frailey, who was chair of the undergraduate photography department at SVA, School of Visual Arts, had started a magazine called “Dear Dave.”
Lynne: Unbeknownst to me, at some point, he decided that he wanted to use as his advertising campaign this blue page that he put into every issue.
Lynne: He didn’t tell me. I had no idea. This was a big surprise, and when I opened up the magazine, here’s this blue page with white letters, and it wasn’t this. It was with white letters saying, “What Would Lynne Tillman Do?” and in the gutter of the magazine it said, “Subscribe to Dear Dave.”
Craig: I love that he just used your name without even asking you. [laughs]
Lynne: He knew I would enjoy it. I guess some people would think, “Oh, my God, what vainglorious,” and this stuff, but I never really associated it with me exactly. It’s just the concept what would anybody do.
Craig: It’s so disembodied. It’s such a weird…
Lynne: It’s incredibly weird, because it’s not like what would Jesus do. I mean here’s this person who is unknown, except to maybe a couple of thousand of my readers or something, or people who know me. Why would anybody care about what would Lynne Tillman do?
Craig: Then it transforms into this strange poster campaign around the city.
Lynne: That’s right, that’s right. Before the book came out, Steven Frailey just decided he wanted to publicize Dear Dave, and suddenly these posters were going up, and they went up exactly at the time that Richard and I were putting together the table of contents and thinking about what we should title it. Richard said, “It’s a slam dunk. It’s got to be What Would Lynne Tillman Do. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, and then this became a National Book…
Lynne: Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, and it was a finalist. I lost to Ellen Willis, who had died many years before but had never gotten one, and there was a posthumous collection of her work, so I lost to a…
Craig: a dead person. [laughs]
Lynne: A dead person, a very important to raw critic in all of this. It reminds of what Spike Lee said recently when he lost at the Oscars, and he should have won for “Blackklansman.” I loved that movie, and the “Green Room,” it’s just not a good…There’s two good actors in it, but it wasn’t Blackklansman.
Lynne: It wasn’t anything like it, not inventive. Spike Lee’s so inventive, and he said it was that we were comparing the “Green Book” to “Driving Miss Daisy,” and he lost to Driving Miss Daisy. He lost to the Green Book, and he said, “I always lose when there’s somebody being driven.”
Lynne: Anyway, what’s interesting about this collection, in the way that it was put together with Richard, was that we decided to do it as an abecedarian, the table of contents. So, rather than grouping them under some subtitle, we just did it alphabetically.
Lynne: A is for Andy, Andy Warhol, B is for the Bowles’s, Jane and Paul, C is for Character, C is for Cool, we had two for C, D is for Dictionary, and these all refer to pieces of mind about these subjects.
Craig: And there’s the interview with Peter Dreher in there?
Lynne: Yeah, Peter Dreher, four interviews.
Craig: I’m just checking to make sure your mic is still on, because that’s the interview where you recorded with Peter…
Craig: and got home, and the tape was blank.
Lynne: My tape was completely blank, and I had to go back and redo it with him.
Craig: But it was a good second.
Craig: Would you feel that was better?
Lynne: They were very different. It was much harder to get it started the second time around, and then he said, “Did you plan this?”
Lynne: Because his work is about…
Craig: Repetition and…
Craig: What Would Lynn Tillman Do is also – and I don’t know if you know this – but this entire book is online now. The whole thing.
Craig: Richard and I made a website.
Lynne: For it?
Craig: For the book. We did this a long time ago. Did you know this?
Lynne: I think I did, but I haven’t thought about it.
Craig: [laughs] There’s nothing to think about. If you go to whatwouldlynnetillmando.com…When the book came out, part of the promotional campaign we had concocted…We, I mean I was a sort of speed-balling stuff with Richard.
craig: We put this website together to just put up one of the essays a week, and then promote each essay each week. Richard had put them all into the system, and then it just petered out [laughs] I think we got to about D, and then that was it. It was just stuck at D. It went A, B, C, D up until about three months ago.
Lynne: I didn’t know that.
Craig: Yeah, yeah, and then Richard messaged me, and he said, “Hey, it’s costing a lot to keep this thing up. Do you know if there’s a way to do this that’s not so expensive?” and I said, “Sure.”
Craig: What we did is I said, “Richard, do you have all the stuff in there?”, and he said, “Yeah,” and so he pushed it all up, published it all. Then I made a static copy of it, so I archived it in this way that’s…With websites they’re either dynamically made, so they’re generated whenever someone looks at it by going to a database. It’s very complicated.
Lynne: It’s sounds very complicated.
Craig: It’s unnecessarily complicated for most things. What I did is like an archive, I created a static version of it that requires no database at all. I froze it, and then I cloned it on my servers. Richard was able to get rid of his thing, so I’m hosting it now, the entire thing.
Lynne: Thank you!
Craig: It’s archived with our archive and all these nonprofits, so it’s…
Lynne: That’s fantastic! How much was it costing him to keep it?
Craig: I don’t know, but it was hundreds of dollars a year, some silly thing, but it was just unnecessary.
Lynne: How interesting.
Craig: I thought that was really fun about this book, as well, and with the website, we riffed directly off this blue poster, and so the website, the typography, everything is connected with this cover.
craig: I think it’s really important, today more than ever, with digital and physical and this kind of bouncing between those two worlds to create these strong brands, these strong visual connections between the objects and then how they live online.
Lynne: It’s funny, you use the word “brand” so easily, and for me it’s very hard.
Craig: I try [laughs] not to. It’s so dirty. I know it’s such a dirty weird way to look at it, but I don’t see it as a pejorative word in this context. I see it as a way to help readers connect a disparate set of things.
Lynne: Do you think of yourself as a brand?
Craig: [laughs] I try not to, but we have this image of Tide as a brand. What does Tide mean, and how do you make Tide evoke these feelings of cleanliness or whatever and…
Lynne: You ask Mr. Clean to come over, and it’s Tide.
Craig: Speaking with Jonathan Gray, who did the Smith’s covers, four of his covers, and those covers created visual constellations that are closely associated with the authors. There’s something about that, because books can be so ephemeral.
craig: The best kind of design work helps even if the covers are different, they aren’t exactly the same, it helps draw a line around all the work in a way that I think helps, elevates the work, and is kind to the readers.
Lynne: I’m just thinking about, historically, what books, whose covers I began to associate with the author. I remember one of the first Hemingway books I read, it was “The Sun Also Rises,” and it had a very strong cover, the paperback that I read.
Lynne: Of course now I don’t remember it, but there was something about it. I could never forget the title, and Hemingway was like the sun rising, that kind of thing then. I still like that book, although I don’t like a lot of Hemingway, but I do like that book. I feel sorry for the guy. Whatever happened to him, he had many, many regrets. OK, so now…
Craig: That’s the Hemingway portion…
Lynne: That’s the Hemingway portion. This is…
Craig: This is interesting, because we’ve been talking a lot about novels. What Would Lynne Tillman Do was your criticism and nonfiction essay, nonfiction stuff, and then here is this…This is kind of an aberration in your…
Lynne: An aberration?
Lynne: No, I don’t know I would call it an aberration, but…
Lynne: I’ve done three or four nonfiction books, an essay collection, and “The Velvet Years,” which I can bring up, but this book, “Bookstore,” it was supposed to have been something that was the 20th anniversary of this famous bookstore in New York City called Books & Company.
Lynne: I signed on to do it, this was shortly after I’d finished “No Lease On Life,” so that was 1996. I finished it. The book didn’t come out, No Lease On Life, a novel, until ‘98. There was a big gap.
Lynne: I was asked if I would be interested in writing about Books & Company just for their 20th anniversary, to do something that was like The Velvet Years, which was based on doing oral histories.
Lynne: I said yes, I signed the contract, and boom! The store was going to close in two months or something like that, or two months after I signed the contract, the store was closing. The Whitney had the lease, The Whitney Museum of Art.
Craig: Where was this located exactly?
Lynne: This was on Madison Avenue, between 75th and 74th Streets. The Whitney is there, and if you’re looking at The Whitney, you go to the right, two stores down from The Whitney, there’s Books & Company.
Lynne: It was a major independent bookstore – major, not that it was huge, but that it really had one of the best selections of contemporary fiction, and that was because of the manager. What was supposed to have been an eight-month project turned into a three-year thing.
Lynne: In a way, for me, it was an aberrant experience. I had never done something like this, and I was first commissioned by the person who owned the bookstore, Jeanette Watson, but then word got around after I had completed the manuscript and Harcourt Brace was interested in it, and they bought it.
Lynne: This drawing that’s on the cover is by Saul Steinberg. He had made this drawing for Jeanette, because he also was somebody who would use the bookstore a lot.
Lynne: The bookstore had two or three readings every week, and it really was a center and a place…I didn’t go to it that often, except because I was living downtown, and I would go to St. Mark’s bookstore for my books. I suggested that this be on the cover.
Craig: Fantastic. It’s beautiful. It feels like…
Lynne: I think it’s exactly, exactly right. I would have even probably had it somewhat bigger. I interviewed 70 or 80 people for this. It is a kind of cultural history. I wouldn’t say “kind of,” it is a cultural history.
Lynne: What I realized was – and maybe, Craig, this is part of your methodology also – I thought to myself, “How does a bookstore run?” Because when you’re a kid and you go into a bookstore, you think every book in the world is there, and you go in a bookstore and they don’t have the book, you think, “How could they not have that book?”
Craig: There’s so many… [laughs]
Lynne: There’s so…yes. “How could they not have that?” I decided I would do almost like an ethnographic study of a bookstore, the buyers, the salespeople who come in, how they talk…
Craig: So you had no preview to the way these things functioned up until this project, before this. You’d never worked at a bookstore part time, you’d never…
Lynne: No, never.
Craig: You had no friends who ran bookstores.
Craig: You pop in to St. Mark’s bookstore and look at things and…
Lynne: I didn’t know really the mechanics of it, and it was very interesting to me. What I did was I interviewed all the people who make the bookstore function, and learned about why things are in the window or that in Barnes & Noble the books upfront aren’t necessarily the best books, but the books that publishers pay for to put there. I didn’t know that.
Craig: I know, it’s a secret. [laughs]
Lynne: It’s a big secret. That’s a big secret.
Craig: But it’s so powerful. That’s why…
Lynne: It’s very, very powerful.
Craig: I think they won’t put anything, there has to be some affection for the book.
Lynne: At Barnes & Noble there used to be some distinction between the different stores and different neighborhoods.
Craig: Right. Interesting. Was there?
Lynne: The curator, whoever it was at the store, “This is the spillage, so we’ll put something out there by any spillage writer, something like that in front.” Other places did that, too.
Craig: How funny.
Lynne: And then, I think it did become more uniform as time went on.
Craig: The image of Barnes & Noble…I think it has a very funny image right now, because I feel like I wasn’t old enough when it first hit to understand its impact on the local ecosystems. I think it was “You’ve Got Mail,” is that the bookstore movie?
Lynne: Yes, that’s right. That’s it.
Craig: It was this demon thing in the early ‘90s, wasn’t it?
Lynne: That’s right.
Craig: And it was the sort of the Amazon of its moment.
Lynne: That’s right.
Craig: My image of it has always been of this kind of like blind nothingness that would just come in and stamp out the local…I guess by selection and cheap prices? Is that what was…
Lynne: There was, yes, some of that. The other thing is that Len Riggio, who’s the owner of Barnes & Noble, he plugged into something which is that people come out of college at 21, 22, they’re going to be looking for jobs in cities and stuff, why not make a bookstore feel like a college campus cafeteria and lounge?
Lynne: Suddenly, there are these lounge areas, and you can sit and read. You can sit and read.
Craig: Actually, I remember how progressive it felt where you almost felt, “Am I allowed to take this book over there and just read it even if I don’t buy it?”
Lynne: That’s right. That I think was really…Who reads books? You read books in college, and hopefully, you’re going to continue to read when you come out, but you’re also suddenly without your ecosystem which had the library, had the cafeteria, it was all there.
Lynne: I didn’t talk to him about this, but as soon as I saw those things, I felt, “Oh, this is for people who’ve just gotten out of college.” It was very smart, it was very, very smart. It did knock out a lot of smaller bookstores, and now they’re coming back again.
Craig: The smaller bookstores?
Lynne: Smaller bookstores, yeah.
Craig: I think because exactly to a point of Books & Co, they function as these community hubs for the community, for the literary community.
Lynne: You can meet people in bookstores, and you can meet people online and hook up, and that kind of stuff, but this is a different kind of meeting. Then you feel, “Well, you know, I might meet somebody who’s also a writer and maybe…” those kinds of things.
Craig: There’s a lot of self-selection going on of the clientele.
Craig: I’m always shocked. Whenever I’m in town, I’ll buy something. I’ll go to Three Lives & Co or McNally Jackson or Mast or something like that. Mast has its own special thing. I’ll pick up a novel, and I’ll go and check out, and they’ll be like, “All right, sir, that’ll be $30,” and you go, “Oh, my God! That’s right, books cost $30.” [laughs]
craigmod: We’re programmed in a way, because of Amazon, that $12 or $15 or maybe $20 is the ceiling, but the reality is that for this ecosystem to function properly, they have to sell it at about 30 bucks at these bookstores. It feels good to pay that.
Lynne: Yes. You are bankrolling.
Craig: You could go what about people who don’t have money? That’s why libraries exist. It doesn’t feel like it’s neither…or. It feels like all bases are covered, and I think in the last few years especially we’ve understood how important independent institutions are and are willing to go and pay that.
Craig: This cover, your input was mainly just saying this…
Lynne: Just saying, “Why don’t we use that drawing?”
Craig: How did you come across that drawing?
Lynne: She had it up in the bookstore – it’s much larger – and he just did it one day and gave it to her. What’s interesting is there’s The Whitney which is much bigger, but the bookstore is what was more important to Saul Steinberg.
Lynne: Another thing that was interesting was that since The Whitney was pulling the plug on the lease for the store, there was a real division between the people who went to The Whitney a lot and didn’t care so much about the bookstore, and the bookstore people, the books’ people.
Lynne: Some of them were so unbelievably conservative about art. I mean, that was really strange. They might be reading really great stuff, but the idea of modern art, as they still called it, was, “Well, I hate that stuff, anyway. How can they do that?”
Lynne: It’s very interesting about doing a history. I’ve written essays about this, how you’re excluding. There’s no way to include everything. The historian, of whatever type, is deciding what is most interesting.
Lynne: What I didn’t want to do was have a lot of negative gossip in there. That stuff doesn’t last. It might be interesting for a few years, but it has no legs. There’s no reason to do it.
Lynne: People, when I was interviewing them, would say terrible things about The Whitney. The director then was David Ross. They would make accusations about David Ross and stuff. I put none of that in.
Craig: I think that’s a really mature impulse that we’ve lost today [laughs] in a lot of ways.
Lynne: Well, I think that that’s true. I don’t know how mature I was, but I was thinking about, what is it that interests me? It’s not gossip, you know. I may gossip with a friend or something like that, but what I realized was, I was at MacDowell working on this and crying.
Lynne: It wasn’t what I wanted to be writing. I had this whole system. When anybody said something about Jeannette’s father, who was IBM, all of the stuff about Jeannette’s father I put in one file. I had to be cross-referencing back and forth. It was very administrative, doing this book. [laughs]
Craig: Do you think this is the largest research-related book that you’ve done, the amount of data that you collected and synthesized?
Lynne: Yeah, I would guess so, although I recently wrote an essay about On Kawara. I had to do a lot of research for that.
Craig: Not three years’ worth. [laughs]
Lynne: No, not three years’ worth.
Craig: You were crying because it was at MacDowell, in your beautiful cabin.
Lynne: Yes, every morning I would walk down the thing and I’d say, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” My analyst said to me, “Of course you can do it. You just don’t want to do it.”
Craig: Did it feel like homework?
Lynne: Yes, it did. It did. [laughs]
Craig: You felt a duty.
Lynne: Of course. I had agreed to do it, I was paid to do it, and I wanted to do it as well as I could. There were a couple of things that I did. Jeanette gave me the money to do it. I hired somebody to do a complete list of all the readings that had been there, all the books that had been read from, and all the publishers.
Lynne: In the back of the book, you see that there is 20 years of what was going on in the literary world. Who was reading? It’s helpful to scholars who might be interested. Many of the publishers are gone. They were imprints, and they’re just gone.
Lynne: The other thing I did was to have a name index at the back of the book. If somebody was interested in reading about one person rather than another, they could do that. I think that that makes this a richer research project, or a book to read for people who want to do more research. What was the literary world like between 1977 and 1997?
Lynne: That was done. I did an introduction that talked about the history of bookstores in America. I did my job. Yes, I did. Oh, when I was at MacDowell, putting all of this together, I realized I didn’t interview David Ross. He was the director then of The Whitney. I immediately wrote him a letter, when I come back.
Lynne: I wanted his point of view and realized there was no one from The Whitney who’d said anything. I interviewed him, and he has his say in the book, but he’s not attacking anybody, or if he’d said anything that was attacking, I didn’t use it.
Craig: I said, a mature impulse, a wise impulse because realizing that it’s just not interesting in a historical, on the longer arc, but I feel like social media today inspires this sort of smallness of time thinking. Social media is all about the next 20 seconds.
Lynne: It’s impulsive. There’s a lot of impulsiveness and reactiveness. Both things are not particularly wonderful for society.
Craig: It’s funny how the book as a form inspires the opposite of that, understanding what this is going to be in 20, 30, 40 or 100 years.
Craig: This came out in the ‘90s.
Craig: No Lease on Life…
Lynne: Came out in ‘98.
Craig: Were you writing this in tandem with Bookstore?
Lynne: No, I had written it before, and it was sold to Harcourt Brace. This is a nice cover, but I wanted something else. I wanted something that I considered much more edgy.
Craig: Sure. For listeners, this is a book…Do you want to give a summary of it?
Lynne: It’s a novel that’s 24 hours in a young woman’s life. She lives in the East Village, and I was riffing on Joyce’s “Ulysses,” of walking around 24 hours in the city as Bloom does, but mine would have a female walker in the city, Elizabeth.
Craig: Who loves jokes.
Lynne: Who loves jokes.
Lynne: She doesn’t tell any of those jokes. What I realized, if I’m going to do a book about New York City, it needs jokes because the city, to me, is a place of great humor, this city. People who live here have the idea that they themselves are funny and they can tell good jokes.
Lynne: I knew all these jokes for many years and would tell them, which is something that women really didn’t do, and I would like to do it because women weren’t supposed to be the bearer of the joke. You were supposed to be the object of the joke.
Lynne: I collected even more jokes from musicians who, on their breaks between sets, tell each other jokes like minstrels going from one castle to another. [laughs]
Craig: What’s interesting is, you’d said earlier that you were anti-dash, em dashes, but all the language in here, all the conversations are set off with dashes.
Lynne: That’s right. I liked it for that, and the conversations, which I think most people didn’t realize when the book came out, are based on interviews I did with three people. They are interviews that I recorded, and then I excerpted different things so as to have that being part of the narrative of the book.
Craig: [laughs] The book starts with, clip, clop, clip, clop – bang.
craig: Clip, clop, clip, clop – bang bang.
Craig: Clip, clop, clip, clop – bang.
Craig: Clip, clop, clip, clop – bang bang.
craig: “What’s that?” “I don’t know. “An Amish drive-by shooting.”
Craig: The first sentence was, “They were just fucking around. They yelled and ran, overturned garbage cans on their block.” The book feel, the East Village, in this moment, was edgy. [laughs] I used to drive down here when I was 16. We were only a block or two away from each other in 1996.
Lynne: Oh, really?
Craig: [laughs] I would drive down and I’d go to Coney Island High, on St. Mark’s Place, and I used to play drums with the reggae night then.
Lynne: Oh, no. You’re kidding.
Craig: I didn’t do drugs, and…
Lynne: You did drums.
Craig: I did drums.
Craig: Because there was so much weed being smoked in that room…
Lynne: You would be stoned out of your mind.
Craig: There was no way to not…I don’t know why…Thinking back, it was insane that I would drive…I had this little Honda Civic, and would just drive from Hartford, down into New York City. [laughs]
Lynne: That’s two hours, two and a half hours.
Craig: Three, three and a half. I’d leave at 8:00 or 9:00 PM at night from Hartford and get here at midnight. I don’t know where I even put the car, and who knows what was going on? Back then, when I think about the difference in danger level of the East Village in the mid ‘90s compared to now, obviously…
Lynne: Crack in the ‘80s was terrible, and it really destroyed…There was a really interesting article in “The Times,” 1987, ‘88. I forget…It was a woman who wrote it. She theorized that one of the reasons that the crack epidemic got so bad was that women didn’t want to…The heads of the household, women and their children in these inner city weren’t shooting up, but they were smoking.
Lynne: They were smokers, and so when crack came along and it was smoked, it didn’t seem to be as dangerous as shooting up, and so it was much more familiar to smoke. People didn’t know that they were going to be devastated.
Craig: Yeah, the buried sundry of smoking something versus a needle in the arm is night and day.
Lynne: That’s right. That affected that community, and the women who had been keeping it together for their children and themselves…
Craig: Fell apart.
Lynne: fell apart.
Craig: You’ve been in the East Village…
Lynne: For a long time, 40 years now.
Craig: Wow. You’ve seen all of these shifts.
Craig: You were here…
Lynne: In the ‘80s. Crack, it was a pretty rough place. This takes place in ‘94 when it’s still pretty tough.
Craig: Still tough, so I can see why…This isn’t a bad cover. There was something very beautiful about it.
Lynne: It is very beautiful, with using the fire escape and having this golden door. Drenka, the editor, Drenka Willen, very famous editor at Harcourt, I asked her to make it even more golden so that it would pop more, but that, again, would not have been my choice for a cover.
Lynne: It was only when I worked with independent book publishers that I really have a say in what the cover looks like. No Lease on Life is not subtle in that way. It uses a lot of vulgarities, a lot of…
Craig: The first sentence I read here, it’s out the door.
Lynne: That’s right, so this is not right.
Craig: I’m looking at this Bookstore cover, and I almost want something like this drawing, this kind of rawness.
Lynne: It could have been graffiti. It could have been No Lease on Life in graffiti, and that’s all.
Craig: That would have been great.
Lynne: Large companies, they have their staffs. They have their art department, and they don’t want to give way. They want to do what they want to do.
Craig: I think people on the outside of the industry are shocked when they hear that the majority of writers have so little say over…
Lynne: Usually, the contract will say…It’s written in such a way that you don’t have authority. They have to show it to you, and maybe you can get them to do something a little different, but usually not. With Motion Sickness, when it first came out, my editor at Poseidon didn’t like the title. She said, “It makes me think of vomit bags.”
Lynne: She really didn’t like the book. She said she really didn’t like it. She published it, but she didn’t really like it.
Craig: How strange.
Lynne: It is strange. She was supportive of me as the writer, but she, “What’s it about?” and I said, “Well, you know, what’s Camus’ book about?”
Lynne: What’s ‘The Stranger’ about?” It’s, “Where’s the action?” I said, “It’s the same action throughout. It’s this young woman travelling around, and she’s meeting others who are displaced. It’s about displacement. It’s about being in a foreign place.”
Lynne: The first cover were these pictures that were like postcards, small, and they were going down like vomit, I thought.
Lynne: I said, “Please, I’d have the pictures go up.”
Lynne: I think she probably told the designer. It’s not a bad cover. It’s just, also, it could have been, I think, a better cover.
Craig: What, to you, makes a successful cover? Of these covers that you have here, what are your two or three favorites, and why?
Lynne: This is…
Craig: This is just…
Craig: so good.
Lynne: Yes, Men and Apparitions. This image is from the artist Susan Hiller, who’s a very great friend of mine and who recently died. When I was thinking about the cover, she had a show on, and this aura photograph was there, and it’s very simple. The designer got it, and he’s soft scales designer. I’m forgetting his name but it must be there, too. I’m getting hungry, I have to say.
Craig: [laughs] Me too. Let’s eat some nuts.
Lynne: Eat some nuts. Good. Thank you.
Lynne: Otherwise, I’m going to die. Nuts are very good.
Craig: Nuts are the best.
Lynne: They may not be good.
Craig: The thinking proceeds well. This cover, to describe it for the listeners, is this aura, this multi-colored, this rainbow aura, and just the hint of…
Lynne: A man.
Craig: a tan.
Lynne: A hand, and you see the white collar. It’s pinky, rosy pinky, rose pink, and white, and some yellowish tone, and some green. It’s just beautiful.
Craig: And some really simple type.
Lynne: Very simple.
Craig: The title and your name are the same size.
Lynne: What I fought for for that…
Craig: It just has this rhythm.
Lynne: was they wanted to put “A Novel.”
Lynne: I said no.
Lynne: Because it would ruin the beauty of this, I thought.
Craig: It’s so elegant. This is simple. You’d think that to get to a place like this with a cover would be easy, but it never is.
Lynne: No. I was surprised it didn’t win a design award. I think that the designer, the way it works, it’s just so beautiful. There’s your picture again.
Craig: [laughs] There you are.
Lynne: [background conversation]
Lynne: Isn’t that great?
Lynne: Now they brought out a new edition of American Genius, A Comedy. Where is it?
Craig: It’s somewhere.
Lynne: Here it is.
Craig: It’s under our notes.
Lynne: It’s under that. What’s beautiful about this is that this background was the same background on the first edition, which was…
Craig: [inaudible] .
Lynne: Yes, that was by Robert Gober, and the new cover is by Robert Gober. He had done, in the gallery…Andy Hunter, who’s the publisher-director of Catapult, which includes Soft Skull and Counterpoint, saw this. Gober had a new show, and he saw this, and with the apple there. It’s just perfect for the new edition.
Craig: What’s happening here on this cover? If you were to describe this, there’s an apple sitting there. There’s even the sticker that’s on the apple that you have in the supermarket.
Lynne: These are, I believe, the bottoms of legs, and they have fabric. With American Genius, A Comedy, fabric was very important, and skin. I came upon this image. Gober and I, this really great artist, Robert Gober, were having breakfast.
Lynne: At that time, Richard Nash and I were thinking about, “What’s our image for the cover?” I said, “You know, Bob, I need something. I’m thinking about fabric. I’m thinking about skin.” He said, “Oh, I have an image you might like.” That was it. That was it.
Craig: This is almost like a sub-theme to a lot of your work, too. So much of your writing is connected with the art world, art criticism. In doing that, you’ve cultivated these really intimate relationships with all these wonderful artists, and then these kind of events happen…
Lynne: That’s right. It’s very lucky.
Craig: where it comes together. I think it’s not lucky. It’s…
Craig: It’s just what happens. It was meant to be. This cover was meant to come together in that way.
Lynne: I’m so happy about it. Gober is such a generous, wonderful man. I do know many wonderful people, I have to say. When you think about how miserable things are, Trump and all that crap, and then you think about things in your own life. There are wonderful things. I think you have to focus sometimes on that.
Craig: One of my favorite covers [laughs] of your books is another reissue, or almost like a first publication…
Lynne: In a way.
Craig: because it never really came out. This is the “Weird Fucks” book.
Craig: Which is such a…
Lynne: My first longish work, 62 manuscript pages.
Craig: What was the impulse for writing this book, and when was this?
Lynne: I finished it in 1978. It was really the first longish thing I’d ever written. It was published in 1980 in a punk magazine called “Bikini Girl,” which was pink. She only used pink. It was about this wide, so it was really wide. I thought that she was publishing this as a chapbook.
Lynne: No, it was in the magazine. It wasn’t an issue devoted to this. 62 pages was reduced to 6 pages in something like seven-point type, and spread across. It was a long…I was so disappointed. You know that part in “Spinal Tap,” where Stonehenge comes down, and it’s tiny? That’s what I felt.
Craig: [laughs] Oh, no. That must have been crushing.
Craig: New Herring, how did this come about? How did New Herring Press get this and decide…Another question here that I’ve had running through the back of my mind is how have you been archiving everything? You were using a computer, it sounds like, from maybe the mid-‘90s. This was pre-computer. Was this a handwritten manuscript?
Lynne: No, it was typed. I never hand-wrote things.
Craig: You were in Europe at the time of this?
Lynne: No, wrote it, I came back.
Craig: You came back and wrote?
Craig: Did you have that sitting around? You just had the manuscript?
Lynne: It was published again after 1980 in a collection called “Absence Makes the Heart,” which I don’t have. They put it in there, but they published it in such a way that it was completely lost. Nobody ever mentioned it. It came out in England because they just didn’t want to mention it.
Lynne: Who knows? It, again, just sank. Nobody saw that. I had copies…
Craig: It was published in its entirety…
Craig: in that Absence Makes the Heart.
Lynne: But nobody had noticed it. Sara and Jess Arndt, Sara Marcus, and Jason Daniel Schwartz, they were the four New Herring people.
Craig: Sara Marcus was with us at MacDowell, same Sara Marcus?
Lynne: That’s right. I suggested to them that they begin a little press. They hadn’t begun it. I met with not Sara Marcus, the other Sara, Sara Jaffe, and Jess Arndt. They were saying, “Well, how can we get published?” I said, “Well, there’s a tried-and-true way, is you begin your own magazine, and then things happen,” so they did.
Lynne: Indeed, things happened for both of them. Sara Jaffe’s book came out with Tin House. We were out in Colorado for an experimental writing conference. I was a keynote speaker with Percival Everett. We got drunk one night, Sara, Jess.
Lynne: I forget. I said something, “Ah, nobody ever read Weird Fucks.” Then either Jess or Sara said, “Well, why don’t we bring it out?” I said, “You mean it?” She said, “Yeah,” and that was it.
Craig: It’s great.
Lynne: Amy Sillman, that’s her cover.
Craig: Yet again, this kind of art world connection.
Lynne: The friend, yes.
Craig: Amy Sillman, true story behind this cover, my good friend Rob Giampietro was at the American Academy of Rome with Amy. Amy came in one night and said, “Rob, help me get this text on top of the…
Lynne: Really? I didn’t know that.
Craig: [laughs] My friend Rob helped Photoshop the Weird Fucks handwritten text on top of the art. He’s very happy to have been part of this, [laughs]
Lynne: Thank him.
Craig: Again, it’s this great cover. I think it works. It’s abstract, it’s strange, it’s as weird as the book itself.
Lynne: It’s beautiful, and then the imagery inside is gorgeous.
Craig: This is also Amy’s work?
Lynne: Yes. Isn’t that gorgeous?
Craig: It’s so good.
Lynne: It’s such a beautiful book.
Craig: The quality of printing…
Lynne: Is wonderful, isn’t it?
Craig: it’s really great.
Lynne: They got money from an art gallery. A non-profit art gallery applied for money to publish it.
Craig: By this point, Lynne and I had been talking for about two hours, maybe two and a half hours. We were both pretty starving and getting a little antsy. We decided to stand up and do a little wander around Lynne’s incredible East Village apartment.
craig: Let me just set the scene here. Her place is covered in incredible art, just everywhere. Lynne and I walked around her apartment for a little bit. She narrated and explained the provenance of a lot of this beautiful, beautiful art that covers her walls.
Lynne: salon-style, [laughs] hanging.
Craig: What’s happening [inaudible] ?
Lynne: That’s supposed to be…My partner is David Hofstra, who’s a bass player.
Lynne: I’m a writer. Kiki Smith, who’s a wonderful artist, we’ve been friends since 1978, she made this for one of my birthdays. The bass looks like an odalisque.
Craig: [laughs] Yes.
Lynne: Isn’t that beautiful? That’s a photograph by Susan Hiller. It’s in a motel or hotel. It’s called “The Secret of…” I forget. She projected language onto the curtains, window. That’s an early work by Paul Chan, who also did this. This is by James Welling, who’s a photographer. That’s another Kiki Smith.
Lynne: This is a Portland artist called Eve. She’s somebody I don’t know, but I saw that work and…
Craig: Snapping away. Which one? The one in the middle with the telescope?
Lynne: To me, it was so interesting. There’s a kind of minimalism on a natural landscape. It’s collage. This is a photograph from a piece by Sylvia Kowalski.
Craig: Which one?
Lynne: She photographed people’s hands as they were talking about conceptual art and minimalism where the hand isn’t meant to show but she had them, and it’s a beautiful work.
Lynne: This is by Barbara Probst, whose book I gave you. This is, of course, Nelson Mandela. This is a painting by Dana DeGiulio, whose work I really like. This is a photograph of Primo Levi’s living room.
Lynne: This is a work by Barbara Kruger, who’s also, met her the same year I met Kiki, 1978. I have a novella called, “To Find Words.” In the novella, the female character has a cough and she’s always touching her throat. Then, Barbara did that for me. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s a one-of-a-kind.
Craig: It seems like photography’s so important to you.
Lynne: I also love paintings. We can go…I do love photography.
Craig: Men and Apparitions was a many, many, many year exploration of photography, wasn’t it, in part?
Lynne: This is by Lori Raff, and she photographed desktops. Isn’t that beautiful?
Craig: That’s incredible.
Lynne: This is by Sadie Benning, who’s both a filmmaker and…She calls these, I believe, “psychic portraits.” That was a psychic portrait of me. She was thinking about me, and these were the images that came to mind. Yeah, yawn.
Craig: Look at Basie. [laughs] Your cat is incredible. He’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. Has Basie ever gone outside?
Lynne: In Hudson.
Craig: You’ll take him up sometimes?
Lynne: Yeah, we take him up when we go up because we can’t…
Craig: He’s giving me a good sniff.
Craig: We know what that means. [laughs]
Lynne: These paintings are by Peter Jay.
Craig: Peter. I love how they’re just sitting here.
Lynne: This is a photograph by Ann Mei Li. She’s a wonderful photographer. Isn’t that beautiful work?
Craig: It’s so surreal.
Lynne: Isn’t it?
Craig: Where is this?
Lynne: She got permission to go on one of those kinds of big ships.
Craig: A Navy ship?
Craig: This is the US Navy?
Lynne: Yeah. This is an early work by Barbara Ess. It’s pinhole camera at Shea Stadium. Isn’t that amazing?
Craig: Over how many years have you been acquiring…
Lynne: Maybe 30 years, I guess.
Craig: Are many of these presents?
Craig: Many of them are presents.
Lynne: I think pretty much the majority. That’s Laurie Simmons, who has a survey show that just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I went there. It’s a great show. Cindy Sherman, Rebecca Quaytman.
Craig: Is this your writing space, your workspace? Everywhere is your writing space.
Lynne: I basically now sit on that chair, because I realize I don’t like looking into that.
Craig: Into the wall?
Lynne: I don’t like looking into it.
Craig: A collection of stuff of books…
Lynne: This is what I wanted to give you.
Craig: Oh, wow.
Lynne: There’s some good photography in there.
Craig: Let’s see. Let’s take the covers that you love and do a little photo shoot over on the…Do you like…
Lynne: We didn’t do this.
Craig: We didn’t do that. This is not it. This is a good cover, though.
Lynne: I know. That was my idea.
Craig: Again, your face.
Lynne: The idea was they wanted to do a portrait of me on this…
Craig: This cover.
Lynne: I said no. I said no. Then, I said, “But I have an idea if you want to use my face.” Then, I took these Polaroids and then wrote on it so you don’t see my face.
Craig: [laughs] When was this published?
Craig: There we go. This is a good selection.
Lynne: That’s enough?
Craig: These are bold. Hummus. I lived in a house for three years where all we had was hummus in the fridge.
Craig: It was me and two other men. [laughs] We had hummus, smoothies and a little bit of LSD in the freezer, [laughs] I think.
Lynne: You’re kidding.
Craig: [laughs] It was very weird, very weird diet.
Lynne: Do you want to put them here?
Craig: How about in there?
Lynne: On the bed?
Craig: The lighting’s maybe a little softer.
Lynne: However you want to do it.
Craig: Maybe we could put them around Basie if Basie will let us. Basie? [laughs] Basie is…You’re amazing. You’re the greatest cat I’ve ever seen. Oh my God. [laughs] Sorry.
Lynne: Did he hit you?
Craig: [laughs] Yeah. Sorry.
Craig: No claw. Is he declawed?
Craig: No claw. It was a pat.
Lynne: He was saying, “You’re in my territory, man.”
Craig: You’re in my territory, man.” Seems like a good place to end. I let this one run kind of long because why not? Lynne is lovely, and the more Lynne in the world, the better.
Craig: Just a gentle reminder, this podcast is made possible by the membership of people like you to the Explorers Club on craigmod.com. If you enjoy this monthly podcast and want to send a very strong signal to me that you want more of it, please consider joining the Explorers Club. It goes a long way. More at craigmod.com/membership.
Craig: Today’s episode was also sponsored by another entity as these podcasts often are. Today’s entity is rent control, a means of limiting the amount of rent charged on dwellings. How does this manifest in real-world change? Let me tell you. At its best, it creates vibrant communities encompassing all walks of life with all levels of commercially-viable output.
Craig: When you think of the greatness of New York City, in part, you’re thinking of the effects of rent control, allowing artists, writers and musicians to congregate in dense urban environments to do the work they feel compelled to do often together.
Craig: Thank you, rent control, for your many immeasurable contributions to our society and the arts, and the moral application of consciousness and life.